"I need your help," he said, frustrated. The woman who had spoken with him in the wee hours of the night was gone, walls rebuilt in earnest, her commando persona in full control.
She looked at him out of the corner of one hard blue eye before returning her attention to the control panel on Moya's command.
"Aeryn, c'mon, throw me a bone here. This mess," John motioned at the shiny floor with is pen, "will be gone in the next day or so and then we have a command carrier to track down and blow up. You know command carriers, I don't."
"Moya has an extensive data bank. I suggest you make use of it."
"Look," John said, thinking aloud more so than actually talking, "I know it won't take much to get Sparky to sell me down the river. Getting on the carrier won't be a problem. However, I would like to get off the carrier with everything still intact, including my frontal lobe. I assume you have the same agenda?" He watched her hands moving over the controls pause for a moment before migrating to a new grid.
A suspicion crept up on him and he didn't like the look of it. "Aeryn, this isn't a suicide mission. You do understand that, don't you?"
She didn't look at him. "I'll do what I have to to accomplish the mission. You just worry about your part."
"Hold the phone, Calamity Jane. No one has a part and there isn't a mission unless the GOAL is for everyone involved to get out. Alive. And preferably in one piece." John shrugged. "It's whether or not we attain our goal, that's yet to be seen."
Puzzle pieces clicked into place and John suddenly wondered if Aeryn hadn't returned from her Sabbatical just to wrap up the loose ends on her dead lover's project before she decided to join him in the great beyond. He didn't like the way that sounded. He didn't like the way Aeryn looked. And the more he the thought about it, the more it made sense. She'd always said she hadn't expected to live this long. Was she taking matters into her own hands?
Mentally, he knew what had to be done. But emotionally? Emotionally John was ready to scrap the whole plan, what little of it there was. Run far, run fast, let the Peacekeepers and the Scarrans blow themselves into another time zone and check his score card later. Lock Aeryn in a cell somewhere and do the job himself. Well, that thought was even less realistic than all the others.
"John, just worry about getting the job done. If you have a good plan, no one should get killed, right?" She made one last sweeping gesture of her hand over the control panel and minced out of the room.
He wondered for a moment if he should follow her but decided he just couldn't handle the Dr. Jeckyl and Officer Hyde routine anymore. He didn't want to have to rely on Crais for anything, let alone life or death information, but at this point it was better than nothing. One more solar day, they would reach their destination and then they could all go off and get themselves killed. It was always good to have a plan.
It lay on his bed, its cover dirty and thumb printed, its edges dog eared and creased and looking like it had seen a thousand star systems, been read and touched and slept on. His old journal. He picked it up and caressed the cover. It was hers now more than it was ever his. He thumbed the pages and wondered…wondered…he put it down before he satisfied his curiosity. When…how…that was his big question. How had is doppelganger finally won over the indomitable Officer Sun? That little Memorex message his Other recorded could have at least left him with that.
John lay awake most of the night, his eyes constantly wandering to where he had left Aeryn's notebook on the table, next to his own. It was easy to tell them apart, one looked like it had seen a war, the other still pristine and immaculate. Physical manifestations of their owners psyche. Was it a gift? A peace offering? Aeryn didn't come home that night to ask. Home. He marveled at how easy it was to fall into a wanted routine of thought, however erroneous it was. This wasn't her home anymore than he was her boyfriend, husband, lover. He'd settle for friend with perks. But it was comforting to think of it as such. For now.
He wondered where she was. On command? Perhaps. Sharing a bunk for the night with the girls? Not likely. Perhaps in Pilot's den, but John doubted even the special bond Pilot and Aeryn shared would protect the ex-Peacekeeper from Pilot's current lascivious nature. The terrace. Watching the starscape go by and mourning the loss of another piece of her life.
When his eyes finally closed and allowed him the release of dreams, he was holding her, kissing her, touching her in ways that he longed for every moment of every day and she wasn't pushing him away. They could have been aboard Moya, or Talyn, but in that wild disorienting way dreams have the space was familiar and not. It was unimportant…she returned his kisses, his caresses, her hair hung loose about her shoulders and he could feel it curtain his face as he bent his head to nip at her throat, nibble at an ear. She was beneath him, her hips rising to meet his and he awoke sweating and moaning, grinding against his mattress and suddenly thankful Aeryn hadn't made it back to quarters that night.
John threw the bag of currency at Crais who caught it with a loud grunt and tried not to loose his footing. D'Argo grabbed him by the collar of his coat to hold him steady.
"What's this for?" Crais asked, looking at John out of the corner of a deep brown eye that seemed to gleam with some insidious emotion.
"What, you think we're counting on your stunning personality to get us out of this mess?" John shook his head. "Uh uh, Bialar. You go have yourself a 'really' good time, on us."
"You expect me to purchase…" Crais looked indignant.
"Yeah, I do. If you have to. Crais, I'm sure when you were a captain, you had your pick of the ranks. But that don't mean jack around here, and I'm just making sure you do your part without getting arrested." John looked at Jool, who hung at the far corner of the bay, glad to give Crais a send off but not wanting to get closer than absolutely necessary.
"I don't understand why I have to babysit this traznick." D'Argo groused as Crais gave up any pretense of argument and turned towards the transport pod.
"We already went over this, big guy. If our friend here goes Ted Bundy on us or something, you're more capable of subduing him without killing him."
"Says you. How about I let him do his duty for ship and deity and then kill him?" D'Argo answered, sheathing his qualta blade.
"You know what a pile of dren we're in right now. Do you really think it's appropriate to be focusing on personal vendettas?" Chiana chimed in. D'Argo growled in reply.
"Look D'Argo, just do the Gene Simmons thing if you have to. And make sure he brings back my change," John called after him after he started to board the transport pod.
"So now what?" Jool asked, approaching the group after the inner bay doors had closed.
"Now we wait," Aeryn replied, her entrance unseen at the bay doorway. She turned and left just as quietly.
"Is anyone else concerned that we haven't seen Sparky since this whole mess has started?" John asked, looking around and realizing the Hynerian had missed yet another group meeting. It was rare he missed any opportunity to make himself seem more important by interjecting his own opinion.
"I, uh, I checked on him," Chiana said, sounding somewhat embarrassed for being concerned about the little green slug's well being. "He's observing a period of mourning. For Orrhn."
"Little Lord Fauntleroy has a period of mourning?" John asked, incredulous.
"Oh, it doesn't mean much. It's not like he's depriving himself or anything, he just keeps to his atmosphere ducts for food raids on the central chamber and he doesn't have to associate with us for a weeken." Chiana shrugged.
John quirked an eyebrow at her, then shook his head and he started the long and precarious route back to his quarters. He had a notebook to replace.
He was amazed at his own level of self control. He flipped through the pages, finding the last system they'd been in before the diseased Leviathan and the dren had hit the atmospheric scrubbers. Carefully unbinding the pages, he lay them out on his bed, the warped and beaten cover carefully shielding his Other's words from him as he neatly and tightly bound it back into one book. The remaining loose pages of star charts he shuffled between the pages of his own journal for attention later.
He flipped the pages of Aeryn's journal with his thumb, just to check the integrity of the binding and noticed the last page was written in tight, controlled script. An alphabet he recognized but couldn't read. He wondered what Aeryn had been chronicling. A eulogy for a lover? It didn't matter, it would always remain a moment in time he'd never know about.
John left the notebook on her side of the bunk and lay down, hoping she would return tonight, most likely the last night they'd have to share quarters. Quite possibly the last night they'd ever share quarters under any circumstances.
He was drifting in and out of sleep, wishing for a cable box, a clicker, and a bowl of popcorn when he heard her pause at the door and begin to unbuckle her boots.
"Any news?" he asked, making sure the bed cover was neatly arranged over his boxers. The past week had woven them into an easy familiarity with each other, moving from sleeping in their clothes to Aeryn wandering about the chamber in her undershirt and boxers. It was the ease of falling back into the familiar for her, and for him it was suddenly like sharing a room in ROTC. You didn't have to talk to your bunk mate, you didn't even have to like your bunk mate, but you learned to treat your combined areas like home. Odd that he would suddenly feel self conscious.
"D'Argo commed about half an arn ago." Her face twitched against a smile. "He said Crais was being very, very 'thorough' and at this rate we may not see them for a day or two."
"The guy is not the energizer bunny, he's got to wear himself out at some point."
Aeryn carried her boots around the side of the bed and said, "I'm sure Talyn is quite capable of fortifying Crais energy reserves, especially considering the circumstance."
John tried not to chuckle. "You got to feel bad for Talyn, though. I mean, the poor kid is getting cheated out of his first time."
Aeryn didn't answer him, but he heard the whisper of a thumb against the soft fan of paper. He realized he was holding his breath, waiting for some sort of response, and tried to release it quietly. John heard the book hit the bed, it's whoosh of pages replaced by the heavy stream of Aeryn's shower. He wondered if she thought he was rejecting her gift. Or was she pissed he hadn't returned the book in its entirety?
He was sitting up in bed, chewing the pad of his thumb and wondering what he should do when he heard the water turn off and felt Aeryn slip into bed next to him.
"John, just let me talk." Her voice sounded hoarse, thick, as though she had used to the shower to mask an emotional outburst. Well, not like she'd ever be the first one to do that around here. "This is very…hard…for me."
"Talking?" John shifted himself to look directly at the screen between them. He could imagine her perched on the edge of the bed, fresh tank top and briefs, perhaps combing and binding her hair back.
"Everything. This whole thing. This having to share quarters, having to share the ship, having to see you again. I thought if I could just keep myself closed off, treat you like you're not him, I could adjust. But every time you speak I hear his voice. Every time I see you I see him. It's like living on Valldon all over again and there are nights that I lie here and think 'it'd be all right to pretend, just this one time'."
In her space between thoughts, John wanted to move around the curtain, pull it aside, take it down, just to reach out and hold her. Her voice had grown small and weak and he wanted to hold her not for his own reasons, but because she sounded like she needed it. He held himself still, not trusting his own body if he allowed it to move. This was her moment, not his.
"It's very confusing, isn't it?" She continued. "I mean, I know what you're thinking, even before there were two of you I could read your thoughts. You write them all over your face. I look at you and think 'he gets that same line over his eye when he's worried.' If we made love right now, I'd know exactly how you'd touch me and how I should to touch you."
"Aeryn, I don't want that." His fingers betrayed him as they brushed against the bed cover between them. What was it he didn't want? To make love? To be the consolation prize. "I don't want that until you do. Until you can look at me and not see him."
"And what if I never can?" He heard the rustle of bed covers as she lay down and fidgeted. It never seemed that she ever got comfortable, only that her body would fall into sleep and lie still a few arns.
"Then we'll cross that bridge when we come to it." He lay back as well, tucking his hands under his head. "Aeryn, we may have started out the same man, but you spent three months, monens, with someone whose standards I can only hope to live up to. Now, I'm just a guy who looks like him. But I'm still the same guy whose backside you have pulled out of every pile of dren in the UT, and kicked up one side of Moya and down the other. I'm still the same guy who can't take a pentak jab and who can make a damn good BBQ, all things considered. I know you and he have memories I can't compete with, and I don't want to."
"Did you--I mean, thank you for returning his book. I--" Her voice wouldn't let her finish.
"I didn't read anything that wasn't my business. I'm not a voyeur." He wondered what sort of answer he expected from a statement like that, and was caught entirely off guard by her next sentence.
"John, if you don't return from the carrier, I won't either." Her control was back. Her voice hard, competent. Her statement could have been as innocuous as "it's your turn to clean the sluice chamber."
"Aeryn--" John sat bolt upright in bed.
"No, John. It's not a threat or an ultimatum. It simply is. I won't live with that pain twice."
When the enormity of her words struck him his mind was stuck in a loop like a squirrel in a cage. It wasn't the fact that she would rather die than live with his death again, it was what the words implied. If his death, HIS death, not the Other's but his, could bring her that much pain, it meant she cared. She cared. Deep inside that Peacekeeper exterior was the woman he loved, the woman who loved him, hidden and cowering from the emotional torture she never in her life had been prepared to handle. If there was ever any truth to the cliché of a heart soaring, it was at that moment. John felt light headed, he felt like he could levitate if he tried hard enough, he felt like he could take on the entire PK armada and walk out without a scratch because his Officer Aeryn Sun needed him to. Joshua may have had the power of God, but John Crichton had more. He had hope.
"We'll get back, Aeryn, I promise. And then you and I can start working on some new memories. They don't have to be the same ones, just our own."
"We'll see," she said. "It won't be easy." John felt something move against his thigh and reached a hand down. Her fingers caught his and twined against them, holding his hand fast just at the border of their Wall.
"It never is," he answered, giving her hand a small squeeze.